Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Texting for libraries.

I always love these proposals: that librarians need to use the technology their customers use.

There is a new service out there at textalibrarian.com that offers an easy way to let librarians answer questions sent from mobile devices. Check out the groovy dude image on their website compared to the dorky librarian image: Awesome!
The problem is, and this is absolutely fucking true, we are smarter than these potential texting customers, and I'm really sorry to say this to those high school or college students: we are smarter than you. We can use your technology 50X better than you can. And by better, I mean, more efficiently, with greater utility, to solve actual problems.

You, on the other hand, continue to use technology as a wank machine, shooting your digital DNA all over the technosphere. You text everyone for everything, using language that no one understands. You text incomplete thoughts that are completely dependent on another thought that you left out from your message. You get offended when asked for clarification. You get angry when you don't get the answer you want. You, frankly, are an asshole. Your only purpose seems to be to purchase technology, become bored or dissatisfied with its performance and then purchase more. And then expect everyone else to do the same.

As it turns out, librarians do everything completely wrong. We keep books which no one wants to read. We work in libraries which no one wants to visit. We update web sites with every possible bit of information we have which no one wants to search through to find.

About the only thing we seem to do that's right is we take all criticism seriously and try to make things better.

This solution might not work for us because, again, very frankly, it's completely dependent on you keeping up your end of the bargain which we all know you can't possibly do. But another very important thing which is absolutely fucking true is that librarians will keep trying. We will keep trying to make it easier for you to find what you want, regardless of your inability to appreciate it.

Check out the sample questions that textalibrarian uses on their animated gif:
  • "Do you have the Atlantis Prophecy on the shelf?"
  • "How long can I check out DVDs?"
  • "What are 2 great books about the Civil War?"
A librarian would have trouble with each of these questions. At a university, there could be several campuses with several libraries each. So we have to be prepared for the inevitable long discussion to follow.

"Yes, that book is currently on the shelf at the Gladstone library."
"Where's that?"
"East campus. The large grey building with the bronze statue of a phoenix out front."
"Is a phoenix like a bird?"
"Yes, it looks somewhat like a bird in that it has wings."
"Do you think you can find it?"
"Is that the building by the Subway?"
"by the Einstein Bros?"
"Ok. How do I get the book?"
"It's here at the information desk now. Your initial query asked if it was on the shelf; therefore, I inferred that you had a basic knowledge of the library and how to locate materials in it. It appears I overestimated your abilities. I apologize for that. Although I've been told by colleagues that it's inevitable."

For me, I'm already prepared for this new SMS library service. I've created a batch file to send the following messages at 5-second intervals to each person who texts me a question that is impossible to answer through the tiny screen of their phone:

"Really. Dial my fucking phone number and talk to me."

"Do you know how much time and energy is being wasted by this transaction?"

"Don't you realize that you are destroying a quarter acre of South American rain forest each time you SEND a message?"

"We have technology already in place for this request; it's called a telephone."

"You say some words and, this the awesome part, I say some words back IMMEDIATELY."

"You never lose your train of thought because conversation flows naturally."

"Try it. I'm sitting right here waiting."

"But wait a few minutes until I finish eating this meatball sub."

[0riginal story here: Mosio founder says shush, text a librarian for help by John Timmer. Published: October 27, 2008.]